PARIS — French arms procurement agency DGA said Nov. 8 it expects to start training French ground forces to use the British Watchkeeper tactical unmanned aerial system (UAS) this month and is aiming for a first-flight campaign in Istres, France, next year.
The experiments will further Franco-British cooperation in the area of tactical drones started under the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty and reaffirmed in July by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his U.K. counterpart, Philip Hammond. The French are expected to purchase the-built, multisensor, all-weather system following operational trials next year.
The training program is part of a contract awarded by the British arms procurement agency DE&S to Thales UK on Oct. 22. Under the terms of the agreement, Thales UK will oversee training of French operators and provide support for the experimental phase of Watchkeeper use, including transport, maintenance and logistics.
The British defense ministry purchased the Watchkeeper tactical UAS in 2005.
The experiment will begin this month with the first French operator training, and flight campaigns will be conducted at Istres in 2013.